Every coach in the National Basketball Association - Dick Motta and Lenny Wilkens included - preaches that two things win basketball games: rebounding and defense.
There is a lot of luck involved in rebounding. Defense is mostly skill.
It may sound trite, but the truth is that no player - not Abdul-Jabbar, not "the Iceman," "Pistol Pete," David Thompson or "the Doctor," - can score without the ball.
The Bullets' Elvin Hayes was a dominant force in the first half of the first game of the NBA final series against Seattle Sunday.In the fourth quarter, he touched the ball four times on offense and made one shot.
The reason: Seattle's Paul Silas wouldn't let Hayes get the ball.
"Specifically, I tried to front Elvin or three-quarters him," Silas said. "When he gets the ball, there's nobody in basketball who can stop him."
There are three basic ways to defend against a player like Hayes, who plays inside with his back to the basket. The defender can front him - play between Hayes and the ball - as Silas did much of the time, so that in order to get the ball to him, the Bullets had to lob the ball over Silas' head. That is not easy.
Silas would keep Hayes and the Bullets guessing by playing three quarters of the way in front of Hayes on occasion. That meant he played to the side of Hayes that the ball was on, which made it difficult for the pass to come into Hayes. If it did, Silas was in position to cover and pressure Hayes if he tried a shot.
The third alternative a defender has against a player like Hayes is to position himself behind him, let him get the ball and then try to stop him. Jack Sikma tried that tactic and Hayes took him to lunch.
The only way a defender can be successful playing behind his man is if he is bigger, stronger, quicker and a better jumper.
Guarding Bob Dandridge creates problems for Seattle because Dandridge plays both down low with his back to the basket and goes outside and faces the basket.
Seattle's Johnny Johnson pestered Dandridge all day in game one, forcing him to miss nine of 12 shots and holding him to six points.
"I just try to apply as much pressure as I can and hope Bobby misses some shots," Johnson said. "He's not going to go around all night shooting layups and unmolested jump shots. He's going to have to shoot it in my face to make it."
Even the best defenders need help on occasion, and one reason Seattle is such a good team is that it combines sound individual defense with good team defense.
The Sonics cover on another's weakness. Seattle was second in the NBA in defense behind Portland, yielding 102.9 points a game.
In their first-round playoff series against Los Angeles, the Sonics held the Lakers to 11 points below their season average per game. They also held the Trail Blazers to 11 points below their per-game average in the next round and held Denver to five points below its average in the conference final.
The Sonics, meanwhile, equaled their season average of 104 points against the Lakers, were six points below it against Portland and seven points above against Denver.
They were two points better than their average against the Bullets Sunday, while Washington was held to eight points below.
Marvin Webster guards the Seattle basket and his teammates try to cut off the opposition's avenues, except the one that leads to Webster. The "Human Eraser" is as effective an intimidator as there is in the league.
"Against the Bullets, we just put Paul on Hayes because he's strong enough to keep Elvin from getting position and the rest of us helped. I tried to make Elvin aware I was there," Webster said.